Governor Signs Bill to Make Illinois First State to Eliminate Cash Bail Despite Steep Opposition

Flanked by lawmakers and supporters, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law during a ceremony at Chicago State University, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP

Illinois Democrat Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Pretrial Fairness Act (HB3653) on Monday making the Land of Lincoln the first state to eliminate cash bail despite unified opposition by the state’s police community and all but two of the 102 county state’s attorneys.

Ahead of the governor’s signature, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus sponsored the bill which aims to eliminate any bail requirements for those charged with felonies if they have been deemed to be no threat to the community, MSN News reported. The bill will take effect in January of 2023.

“I hope the rest of the country if they’re looking at this, they can see a model that says that we can get rid of a tiered system of public safety so that…especially if you’re a poor person of color, you’re not saddled with a really, really horrible form of public safety,” Pritzker said after signing the bill into law.

Pritzker also said those who oppose the bill are “liars” and “fearmongers.”

“Opponents of this law don’t want any change, don’t believe there is injustice in the system, and are preying upon fear of change to lie and fearmonger in defense of the status quo,” Pritzker said.

The more than 750-page bill was passed in the middle of the night last month during the lame-duck session, and critics say there was not enough debate over its many provisions. Members of the law enforcement community said neither the bill’s sponsors nor the governor’s office reached out to them for input on the bill.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin called Pritzker’s support of the bill “an insult to our first responders, law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens of Illinois who work to live free of violence and destruction from the criminal element.” Durkin added, “It’s clear that Gov. Pritzker does not understand this bill and what it means to our criminal justice system.”

The state’s entire law enforcement community — including the police unions, chiefs association, state sheriff’s groups, and individual departments — opposed the bill as an anti-police measure, one that will put both the public and police in danger.

One provision of the bill, for instance, prohibits police officers from viewing their body cam footage as they write their incident reports. This ban is unusual because no other state prevents cops from reviewing such footage while writing incident reports.

Jim Kaitschuk, the Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said the no-review provision will force officers to simply write “see body cam footage” on every report instead of detailing what occurred because this new law makes it a felony for cops to write reports that seem to differ with body cam footage.

Kaitschuk also lamented the requirement for every officer to have a body cam is a cost that many smaller police departments cannot afford.

“Those that say this isn’t anti-police and it’s going to make communities safer, I don’t know how you can look at it that way,” Kaitschuk added.

With its bans on certain police practices, including chokeholds, many police officials feel that the bill puts police officer’s lives in danger.

In a statement released last month, Kaitschuk called opposition to the bill a “fight to save law enforcement.”

“The fight over this bill is a fight to save law enforcement. If we lose this fight, it might as well be a crime to be a law enforcement officer in Illinois,” Kaitschuk wrote.

Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp agreed with Kaitschuk and said the prohibitions and training demands seem to take away a police officers’ rights. He also worries about the training requirements as they impact smaller departments.

“It’s hard for rural areas (in) which we have very few number of officers. It’s hard to get them trained and still provide the services for the public,” Kettelkamp said. “We don’t have the ability to have someone cover that shift while the other is being trained.”

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